Monday, December 8, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life, by James Nestigen

Chapters Nine & Ten

1.  While long-time colleagues, Luther and Melanchthon often did not see eye-to-eye on theological and doctrinal issues, especially on the finer points.  What was the basic difference between Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession and the unaltered Augsburg Confession?

2.  Who was Johann Agricola, and what was the nature of his relationship with Luther?
3.  As the Lutheran reform and the Schmalkald League expanded, the most significant obstacle, aside from the traditional Roman Catholic authorities, was still the southwest Germans and the Swiss. The difference of opinion between Luther and Ulrich Zwingli still blocked the way, even though early in the 1530s Zwingli was killed in a Swiss war. The issue was still the Eucharist.

On what was the disagreement focused?  How did it end?

4.  In 1536, Pope Paul III scheduled a council to review the role of Lutheranism in the life of the Church.  This did not go well.  Luther’s prodigious Schmalkald Articles were intended to clarify Luther’s position, but failed to receive acclaim by the Pope and company.  Luther’s health prevented him from participating fully.  What then came of this effort?

5.  Review Luther’s list of physical ailments in his latter years.  How did they contribute to his temperament and productivity?

6.  Review and discuss Luther’s anti-Semitic positions and comments.  Do they surprise or disappoint you?

7.  How was the Schmalkald League seriously wounded by Philip of Hesse and his “additional” wife?

8.  How did Luther die, and how did the Reformation live on?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life

Chapters Seven & Eight

1.  In 1526, Luther’s health deteriorated on several levels.  What were they and what contributed to them?

2.  What was the target of Luther’s liturgical renewal and reform?

3.  What was the Saxon Church Visitation and why did it fair so poorly?  (Spare no humorous details!)

4.  What were the Large & Small Catechisms and why did Luther write them?  How were they received?

5.  Who was Ulrich Zwingli and what did he and Luther debate over?  What was their common ground?

6.  By now, the growing cast of characters in this narrative is getting fuzzy.  Nonetheless, Charles V is striving to walk the fine line between Wittenberg and Rome.  What events led up to the Diet at Augsburg?

7.  What issues were at stake at Augsburg?  What huge role did Melanchthon play in its success?

8.  Even though the negotiations failed, the Augsburg Confession survived.  Why?

9.  What drew Luther to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and why is his commentary on Galatians still revered?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life

Chapters Five & Six

*Please be prepared to discuss specific details of our reading.

1.  What did Luther write during his stay at the Wartburg?

2.  What was distinctive about Andreas Bodenstein von Carlstadt?

3.  Who were the Humanists, and who was Erasmus of Rotterdam?

4.  How did Erasmus and Luther challenger each other?

5.  What was Luther’s controversial role in The Peasants’ War?

6.  Upon his return to the Wartburg in 1522, Luther addressed “whether and how a person is saved or made right or ‘justified’ by faith.”  How does Christ meet us at the cross?

7.  Who was Katherine von Bora and how did she enter Luther’s life?

8.  What did Katie contribute to the Luther’s marriage and household?

9.  When is a good time to watch the movie on Luther at church?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life, by James Nestigen

Chapters Three & Four

1.  As Nestigen says, “There is good money in bad religion.”  What were indulgences and how were they used and abused?  What enabled John Tetzel to be such an effective indulgence salesman?  How do religious hucksters continue to separate fools and their money today?

2.  “In the years following the explosion out of Wittenberg, Roman Catholic officials made several direct efforts to contain the damage.  Several people got involved with the “fire control,” including Johann Staupitz (by assigning Luther to lecture); Frederick the Wise (who ignored pressure from Rome to preserve his own political and financial control); and theologian Thomas Cardinal Cajetan (who met privately with Luther in a disconcertingly meeting).  Why did none of these curb Luther and his agenda?
3.  Describe the relationship between Luther and Philip Melanchthon.  How did they assist each other over the years?

4.  Luther’s theological approach was termed as, “dialectical.”  He often used two extreme positions to arrive at a conclusion somewhere in the middle.  He did so in the “Heidelberg Disputation,” where he set up a contrast between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross.  His basic question:  “How do human beings really come to know God?”  In light of this contrast between glory and the cross, what was Luther’s answer?

5.  What were the effects of Luther’s writings being distributed to the laity via pamphlets (“flugschriften” – flying writings)?  Why were these so effective?

6.  Luther concluded that there are only two sacraments, not seven.  Why did he make this distinction? 

7.  What was Luther’s definition of “Christian freedom?”  How is this different from secular freedom (political & personal)?

8.  Luther was excommunicated in 1520 by the pope.  What was Luther’s “fiery” response? 

9.  What happened at the Diet of Worms?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Martin Luther: A Life

Chapters One & Two

1.  Nestigen begins with the question, “Who was Martin Luther?”  “But there is much more to the identity of Martin Luther, enough to make him forever controversial.”  Prior to reading this book, what was your knowledge/opinion of Martin Luther & his legacy?

2.  Nestigen introduces us to Luther’s parents and his years of upbringing.  What were those years like for Martin?
3.  What drove Luther to the monastery?  What was his chief fear?

4.  Luther’s journey as a monk led to both his ordination as a pastor and his academic promotion as a doctor of the Bible and church…assuming “another public office, swearing to uphold the church’s witness as well as its theology, its thinking about Scripture, and its tradition.”  His plate was full.  Why was Luther still doubtful of himself?

5.  Luther was drawn to both the Psalms and to Paul’s writings.  He was particularly engaged with the “‘righteousness of God,’ a phrase from the Psalms and from Paul’s writings that became Luther’s point of focus.’”  This led to the question, “How do I find a gracious God?”  Identifying with Luther, what theological questions linger for you?  Is there one, in particular, that stays at the forefront of your thinking and reflection as a Christian?

6.  Luther gets some relief from his doubts as he embraces his newfound understanding that, “The merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”  “Luther immediately felt ‘as though reborn.’”  Thus, God gives us what he commands…allowing us to respond in the only way we can: by faith, and not by works.  Why did this comfort Luther, and why should it comfort us?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chapters Nine & Ten

1.  Entitled, “Service with Dignity,” Lupton shares the ongoing conversation that ensued with his longtime neighbor and subsequent friend, Virgil, regarding outside assistance.  Lupton portrays a difficult process of listening, adaptation, trial & error, and eventual limited success. 

What was Virgil’s longstanding gripe with the way those who provided outside assistance conducted themselves?  How did Lupton respond and what was the result?

2.  “Little affirms human dignity more than honest work.  One of the surest ways to destroy self-worth is subsidizing the idleness of able-bodied people.  Work is a gift, a calling, a human responsibility.  And the creation of productive, meaningful employment fulfills one of the Creator’s highest designs.  Because of that, it should be a central goal to our service.”

How does this statement speak to our Christian vocation as co-stewards of God’s creation?  What is the value and goal of work to you as a Christian?
3.  “Even as work is essential for life with meaning, so neighboring is essential for meaningful community life.  Becoming a neighbor to less-advantaged people is the most authentic expression of affirmation I know – becoming a real-life, next-door neighbor.”  Lupton goes on to discuss “re-neighboring” as a primary transformation strategy.  “Be an interested, supportive neighbor for at least six months before attempting to initiate any new activity.”  And finally, “Need does not constitute a call!  Focus your efforts in one or two areas that have a compelling interest to you, that maximize your giftedness.”

How have you experienced the effectiveness of such sage advice?

4.  In chapter ten, Lupton argues, “But superbly run betterment programs do little to strengthen the community’s capacity to address its own needs.  And often they can work at cross-purposes with community development.  They are entry points but not ending points.”

Give some examples of where this plays out.

5.  Here are a few nuggets from this chapter.  Briefly discuss each:

- Henry Blackaby, “Find out what God is up to, and get in on it.”

- Ask yourself: What is my parish?

- The best way to assure effectiveness is to spend enough time as a learner, ask enough questions, and seek wisdom from indigenous leaders to gain an accurate picture of both existing realities and future aspirations of the community.

- When we focus on what is wrong, we miss what is right.

- What we look for is likely what we will see.

And finally…

- The poor, no matter how destitute, have enormous untapped capacity; find it, be inspired by it, and build upon it.

(Next week…Martin Luther!)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton

Chapters Seven & Eight

1.  Lupton introduces chapter seven by using Warren Buffett and Bill Gates as models of wise giving.  Time and again, Lupton stresses, “Due diligence is the cornerstone of wise giving.” 

What do we have in common with these two billionaires?  How do they stand apart from ordinary persons/investors/givers?  What can we learn from them?

2.  In, “Controlling the Lake,” Lupton shares the success story of the yucca famers of Nicaragua, aided by the masterful genius and shrewd guidance of community developer, Geralyn Sheehan.  (Did you notice she was Minnesota-bred?  No real surprise, of course!)  “Controlling the lake implies ownership by the community of their community.  This begins with a change of perspective.” 

Why was this such a successful effort?  Who deserves the credit?
3.  Lupton goes on to illustrate how Opportunity International’s microlending was further enhanced through careful community development over the long haul.  Turn to pages 117-120 and review Lupton’s bullet-list of questions.

How might each of these apply to Transform Rockford?

4.  While microlending has gone mainstream, it has not been very successful to the poor in our country.  He lists these are central:
(1) an ingrained work ethic, (2) a demonstrated entrepreneurial instinct, and (3) a stable support system. 

Why are these elements so difficult to achieve in our culture?

5.  In chapter eight, Lupton revisits, “The Oath for Compassionate Service,” pages 128-132. 

Briefly review together and comment on each.  

6.  Finally, Lupton shares another important laundry list for successful community development on Pages 138-140.

Again, briefly review.  How do these serve as a template for Rockford and other cities that struggle for renewal?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton

Chapters Five & Six

1.  Lupton introduces this chapter with a deeper examination of organizational charity.  Citing several examples of programs run amuck, he asks, “But isn’t it time we admit to ourselves that mission trips are essentially for our benefit?  Would it not be more forthright to call our junkets ‘insight trips’ or ‘exchange programs?’  Religious tourism would have much more integrity if we simply admitted that we’re off to explore God’s amazing work in the world.”

What is your response here?  Agree or disagree?

2.  Lupton moves on to cite his organization, Focused Community Strategies, as an example of effectiveness.  “By narrowing the focus of missions, by concentrating the collective efforts of the church on specific places and issues, we dramatically increase the chances of effecting significant, measurable, and lasting change.”  

Why is this so difficult for churches to accomplish over a sustained period? 
3.  Lupton illustrates another failure…this time brought on by the 1.5 billion dollar donation to the Salvation Army by the Kroc family. 

Why did this ultimately lead to failure?

4.  “Top-down charity seldom works,” Lupton says, noting that “all charity begins at home.”  He offers the example of The Atlanta Project (TAP), launched by President Jimmy Carter in 1990.  His assessment? “Had the President’s council of strategists included an experienced community developer, the decision to target twenty multi-neighborhood school catchment districts would have been immediately challenged.” 

“What lessons can we learn from President Carter’s disappointing mission?”

5.  Lupton discusses “dead aid,” as coined by Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo.  This represents the one trillion dollars in charitable aid that has flowed into Africa over the past fifty years.  “Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.”

“So why is humanitarian aid still so popular?  Why does it continue to be a moral imperative among the affluent cultures to impose charity on the less fortunate…all buy(ing) into the belief that giving to the poor is a good thing?”

6.  Finally, Lupton shares the story of a Christian entrepreneur who set out to make Kansas City the first hunger-free zone in the country.  Lupton gives this man a lot of credit, but reflects, “The hard part is rethinking the entrenched giveaway mentality and restructuring an established one-way charity system.  A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.”

Great!  What happens next?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton

Chapters Three & Four

1.  Lupton begins chapter three with his account of Christmas, 1981, when he celebrated the season as a newcomer to an urban neighborhood.  He highlights the departure of the father during the opening of gifts to his children, provided by others.  Lupton attributes this absence to the emasculation of the father, unable to provide for his own children.  Noting such charity as a perversion and toxic, he concludes, “This thorough look at the anatomy of my charity eventually exposed an unhealthy culture of dependency.” “Doing for rather than doing with those is need is the norm.  Add to it the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic.”  He goes on to cite Haiti and Africa as broader examples.

Can you recall any similar or dissimilar examples from your experience with giving?  Where do you agree or disagree with his conclusions?

2.  Lupton states, “It is difficult work…establishing authentic parity between people of unequal power.  But relationships built on reciprocal exchange…make this possible.  And parity is the higher form of charity.”

What are the challenges to reaching such parity, and how did Lupton succeed?
3.  Lupton notes that mercy combined with justice creates:

            - Immediate care with a future plan
            - Emergency relief and responsible development
            - Short-term intervention and long-term involvement
            - Heart responses and engaged minds

He adds, “In a strange twist of divine irony, those who would extend mercy discover that they themselves are in need of mercy.  Out of our own need, we are readied for service that is both humble and wise.”

How do you view this relationship between mercy and justice?

4.  He concludes this chapter by stating, “There is no simple or immediate way to discern the right response without a relationship.  After all the questions, this is the best I could offer John: due diligence.  And if you don’t have time to invest in forging a trusting relationship, give your money to a ministry that does.”

How do you approach discernment and due diligence?

5.  In chapter four, Lupton introduces the Georgia Avenue Food Co-op, which fosters community.  He promotes converting food pantries into food co-ops.  The problem with the former, he notes is that they foster dependency.  “Forging ahead to meet a need, we often ignore the basics: mutuality, reciprocity, accountability.  In doing so, relationships turn toxic.”

What is your experience with food pantries versus food co-ops?  Do you agree with Lupton’s conclusions here?

6.  Finally, Lupton says, “The giver-recipient relationship is doomed from the start.  Such relationships hardly foster trust.  Usually they breed resentment.  If trust is essential for building relationships and making enterprises run effectively, then we have a find a way for outsiders to become insiders.  Recipients must become dispensers, authors of the rules, builders of community.”
“We know these things.  And we have the capacity to accomplish them.  But the will to change our traditional charity systems – now that is the real challenge.”

So, what stands in the way of changing our local charity systems?
What might be required of us to usher in such change?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Toxic Charity, by Robert Lupton

Chapters One & Two

1.  Lupton’s opening statement sets the tone for his book:  “In the United States, there’s a growing scandal that we both refuse to see and actively perpetuate.  What Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.”

What was your initial response to that statement?  Did you react with agreement, disagreement…or somewhere in between?

2.  He continues:  “We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct care-full due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity.  Why do we miss this crucial aspect in evaluating our charitable work?  Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.  We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage.”

Where do you find the truth in this statement?  Where might you counter with, “Yeah, but…”
3.  And again,  “We respond with immediacy to desperate circumstances but often are unable to shift from crisis relief to the more complex work of long-term development.  Consequently, aid agencies tend to prolong the ‘emergency’ status of a crisis when a rebuilding strategy should be well under way.”  “When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic.”

Can you recall situations where this assessment played out?  What circumstances contributed to this predicament?

4.  Lupton provides, “The Oath for Compassionate Service,” on pages 8-9.  Quickly review them again...

What are the challenges to meeting these criteria today?

5.  In chapter two, Lupton describes the short-term service industry, emphasizing the shortcomings of various service projects and mission trips.  He does cite “micro lending” as one example of a positive approach to assisting others.  Mostly, the author gives example after example of huge projects gone awry, with the exception of a few in which he was instrumental in leading.

Is there a common thread that runs through these stories of failure and stories of success?